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Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Children are easily distracted, restless and have trouble paying attention and behaving. They often grow out of it. However, children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder have learning and thinking differences that they do not grow out of. ADHD can profoundly affect a child’s academic achievement, well-being, and social interactions. Adults with ADHD are also negatively affected in their work, well-being, and social interactions.

Adults with ADHD also have problems with focus and impulsivity that affects their work and personal relationships. It can also cause problems such as mood swings, anxiety, and depression.

ADHD is a serious mental disorder characterized by difficulty with focus, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness that impacts function and development. It is one of the most common neurological disorders in children. It is estimated that 9.6% of school-aged children (2.4 million) have ADHD.

Boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as girls. The average age at diagnosis is 7 when children begin academic work, but symptoms often appear as early as age 3. In most cases, symptoms persist through adolescence and into adulthood.  Most children diagnosed with ADHD also have another mental disorder such as anxiety, depression. Many adults are diagnosed after their child or sibling is diagnosed. 

Symptoms of ADHD vary from child to child and can make it difficult for these children to succeed in school, at work, and in social situations. Symptoms tend to change with time. Three primary symptoms are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Inattention: Difficulty focusing, easily distracted, daydreaming leads to making careless mistakes, missing details, forgetfulness, problems following instructions, disorganized, incomplete work and chores or workplace duties, seems to not be listening when spoken to.
  • Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: fidgeting or squirming, on the go, talks too much, blurts out answers before question is complete, difficulty waiting, interrupts, intrudes on others, trouble resisting temptation, takes unnecessary risks, and poor time management skills.
  • In adults, behaviors such as irritability, distraction that can cause accidents at work, preoccupation, disorganization and low frustration tolerance, missing meetings, incomplete work product, impatience in traffic or waiting in line, and angry outbursts can impair work, and reduce productivity. This can result in job loss, trouble with the law, substance abuse, unstable relationships, poor health, poor self-image, depression, anxiety, and suicide. Depression, anxiety, other psychiatric disorders and learning disability are often co-existing conditions.

The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but research shows that ADHD runs in families. Importantly, research reports that a child with ADHD has a one in four chance of having a parent with ADHD, and it is highly likely that the child also has a sibling or parent with ADHD.

Risk factors include premature birth; low birth weight; brain injury; differences in brain anatomy and function; and lead, alcohol, and tobacco exposure in pregnancy. Some studies suggest that people with ADHD lack certain neurochemicals that are responsible for attention, motivation, and determination.

There is no single test to diagnose ADHD, rather it is a process, because some symptoms can be like other disorders. The  diagnoses ADHD with a thorough evaluation based on guidelines developed by the American Psychiatric Association.  The evaluation may also include a physical exam, interviews with the child and parents, and observations at school or at home. In addition to symptoms, there must be clear evidence that symptoms interfere with function at school, work, or socializing and impair quality of life. Adults will receive a thorough evaluation of symptoms based on guidelines and psychological testing.

With proper diagnosis and treatment, most people with ADHD can lead a normal productive life. While the outlook is generally positive, ADHD can pose some challenges that may impact their ability to hold down a job or sustain relationships. This is why it is so important to seek professional help for you or your child. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference in managing the conditions and improving quality of life.

If you think you or a loved one might have ADHD, contact our office to schedule a consultation. Our goal is to help you live a healthy, fulfilling, and productive life. Many famous people with ADHD have gone on to lead successful lives. With treatment and support, you can too.

At a Glance

Dr. Paul Poulakos

  • Attending Psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center
  • Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • Past Clinical Assistant Professor of NYU Langone Medical Center
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